Cal Clutterbuck will be an Islander for the next five years, and that is a clear signal from Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin that their ownership group is very serious about winning a Stanley Cup. Yes, really.
Back in November, I wrote this about Clutterbuck's contract situation:
"How the Isles address Clutterbuck's impending free agency will probably be a good barometer of where the Ledecky/Malkin group thinks this team is, and where it needs to go. Clutterbuck should be set up to be paid handsomely. Matt Martin pulled a $2.5m AAV, and based on the fact that Clutterbuck kills penalties and has more offensive instincts than Martin, Cal should do even better than that. Will the Isles push to make sure they keep one of their biggest motor guys, even if the price tag is more than they care to shell out? If they do, it's probably a clear indication that ownership is happy with the current direction, and is willing to invest all they can to provide the Isles a nice, gaping window of contention."
I know some fans would quibble with the fact that ownership is happy with the current direction, but there are indications here that the bulk of November was more an aberration than a condemnation of what Garth Snow has built. So by investing in Clutterbuck, ownership has shown that they'll open their wallets, not only for the big free agency signee like Andrew Ladd, but for the guy they feel is too important to their room to lose, even if they have to pay him a pretty penny.
Let's be honest, though. Clutterbuck isn't exactly getting anything unreasonable here. The $3.5 million AAV reflects a $700,000 raise on his current deal. What's more, Clutterbuck was probably going to make this on the open market anyway. So all things being equal, it's prudent to just lock him up now if they feel that passionately that Cal is part of the solution, which they obviously do.
I've seen some fans complaining that this is a lot to pay a player with Clutterbuck's skill set. I don't agree, since he's integral to the penalty kill, has the potential to put the puck in the net 10-to-15 times a year and is a huge locker room presence. And I also know that some of these same fans bemoan the loss of the "three free agents" this summer. That group of three includes Martin. So if losing Martin is such an issue, why wouldn't those same fans be happy with locking up Clutterbuck? It's trying to have it both ways.
The Isles' cap situation is due to get some massive relief after next season with Nikolay Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Jaroslav Halak's contracts expiring. That should line up with, what is hopefully, the first year of John Tavares' new deal in Brooklyn. The Isles will have room to add whatever players they see fit the near future, and the Clutterbuck deal does nothing to preclude that. And at the same time, this deal signals to the fans that ownership will do what it takes to win. That right there may be the best thing about this contract.